If you’re like most private boaters in Southern California, you’ve probably targeted sand bass during their summertime spawn. At that time of year, catching sand bass is a pretty simple proposition. Head down to the flats, find the fleet of boats that’s always there and start fishing. But if that’s the only time you target sand bass, you’re missing out on the best part of the fishery.
When not spawning in the mud, sand bass spend their time posted up on the rocks, reefs and wrecks that dot the coastline and if you do a little bit of prep work, you can successfully target them year-round.
I know that doing “prep work” doesn’t sound like much fun and I’m sure it isn’t something that you’re dying to spend your next day on the water doing, but with rockfish closed and the springtime sea bass and yellowtail bites still a few months down the road, you might as well make the most of the downtime.
Do it now and you can take advantage of the hard work that the commercial lobster fishermen have already done. If you’ve been on the water lately, I’m sure you’ve seen all of the lobster buoys scattered along our coastline. Well, the lobster guys don’t randomly drop their traps, they drop them around structure and some of the structure that holds lobster also holds sand bass. The trick is to figure out which lobster buoys are on potential bass spots.
You can cut way down on the time you spend looking for the right kind of spots by using a qualifying process with two simple criteria. The first is to ignore any buoys that you see near a breakwall, a rocky shoreline or along the kelp line as these are just randomly placed pots in high-percentage lobster areas instead of isolated spots. The second is to disregard any buoys that are in less than 40 feet of water as these shallower spots tend to hold mostly juvenile sand bass.
Targeting Structure for Sand Bass
Once you’ve ruled out the buoys that you don’t want, you need to interpret the buoys that you do want. Lobster fishermen don’t normally drop their traps directly on top of heavy structure, they drop them on the edges of the spots. And the bigger the spot, the more buoys you will see on it. On some of the popular lobster spots, the buoys will actually form a ring around the entire spot, mapping out its exact dimensions. Like I said before, the lobster guys already do all of the hard work for you.
The first thing that I’ll do when approaching lobster buoys on an unfamiliar spot is to drive around them while using the side-imaging feature on my fish-finder to locate the actual structure. Once I’ve found the structure, I’ll drive over it and use the up-and-down meter to locate the high spot if there is one and log the waypoint into my GPS. The next step is to determine which way the current is running. The lobster buoys help with this too, just look at which direction the rope is running as the buoys float in the current.
After determining the current’s direction, I use my trolling motor to position the boat on the down-current side of the spot. If you don’t have a trolling motor, you can use your main motor to do the same thing. Simply note the position of the closest buoy to your desired position and then bump the boat ahead as needed to maintain your position relative to the buoy.
A good thing to remember anytime you are targeting fish related to structure is that the fish will usually have their noses pointed into the current. So whenever possible you want to present your bait in a direction that allows it to swim along with the current and towards the fish’s mouth.
Presentation varies day by day, but I’ll always start with a swimbait cast to the up-current edge of the structure. I let my bait sink all the way to the bottom before retrieving it along with the current. If there are biting sand bass in the area, chances are you’re bait isn’t even going to make it to the bottom before getting bit. But if you do make it down, wind the bait slowly along the bottom. Due to the depths you’ll be fishing, a straight retrieve, no matter how slow, will result in your bait coming off of the bottom, which takes it out of the strike zone. To keep your bait in the zone, take a few winds and then kick your reel into free spool to let the bait sink back to the bottom. Repeat that until your bait is straight up and down.
You may not catch any fish on that particular spot, but you did find some structure that might turn out to be a hot spot at a different time of year. So, make a plan to go another day and look for the next spot. You can easily find a couple dozen spots if you spend a day looking, and you’ll probably find some biting bass as well. Get out on the water and you might just have a little bit of fun while doing your prep work.